“Be Merciful to Me!”
Luke 18:9-14 (18:13) – October 23, 2022
When you were young, in school, did the other kids joke and horse around? Sometimes, did the other kids make fun of some people in their school or down the block, or tease and belittle them behind their backs? Even worse, to their faces?
I can relate to this, very strongly. I was one of those kids who was picked on. I wore glasses ever since kindergarten, and on top of that, I was a chubby girl. The mean kids used to call me “four eyes” and “chubby, chubby!” Do you remember a couple of other kids who were really picked on, in your acquaintance? Called names like shorty or pipsqueak, jerk or baby. These names were so hurtful. Sometimes, the picked-on kids still remember, decades later.
Do these negative names or labels remind you of anything? They certainly did, with me! In our parable this morning, it sounds like our Pharisee could be one of the really mean kids on the playground! With such a high and mighty air, and a real feeling of superiority. What do you see from this Pharisee? He was a show-off, for sure! Plus, he did not particularly care how hurtful his statements about the tax collector were. That tax collector was standing nearby, too! How do we think that poor guy felt, with the Pharisee talking trash about him?
Just listen to what the Pharisee says about the tax collector: “The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this rotten tax collector.”
I know I have talked about tax collectors before. These people were Jews, and they grew up in the villages and towns where they plied their trade. Except – they were turncoats. Sell-outs. Someone had to collect taxes for the Roman Empire. They took the pay and authority from their Roman overlords and were despised for it by their fellow Jews. These tax collectors soon received the reputation for graft and shake-downs, and usually that unsavory reputation was well deserved. Both the Pharisee and the tax collector came into the Temple before the Lord. Both the Pharisee and the tax collector had sin in their lives – missteps, missing the mark of how God wanted them to live. Their attitude toward their sin was as different as night and day!
We need to consider two basic truths when we take a closer look at this parable. First, God loves us! Yes, it is true! The Lord loves each one of us, more than we can ever imagine.
But, the second truth is also very evident. We are all sinners. We all have missed the mark, and all have mis-stepped. We all do things and say things and especially think things that are displeasing to the Lord. Commentator Carolyn Brown says “The Pharisee understands only one of them – God loves me. He sees only his strengths and good deeds and tells God all about them. It is a one sided conversation.” 
Do you know people like this? People who are full of themselves, self-important, and proud? Arrogant, even? They might set themselves up on pedestals and look down their noses at anyone who doesn’t come up to their exacting, stuck-up standards. Especially “inferior” people like “thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”
The Pharisee does speak truth about himself, however. “Truth be told, he is righteous. He leads a life blameless according to the law. He fasts and gives alms and indeed bears no resemblance to the unsavory characters with which he compares himself. What, then, is his problem?”  He is overwhelmingly self-righteous, self-involved and blind to his own failings and shortcomings. He does not have a true picture of himself, from the inside out.
What about the tax collector? This parable is one of my favorite parables that Jesus ever preached. I relate so much to this tax collector! We don’t even know his name. But, he understood both of these important truths that underlie this narrative. “He is well aware of his weaknesses and sins. (Lots of people point them out to him regularly!) If that was all he knew, he wouldn’t be at the Temple at all. But he also knows that God loves him in spite of his sins. So he comes to God to confess and leaves OK with God.” 
Do you hear? That is what the assurance of pardon is all about, after our confession of sins each Sunday. God forgives us our sins! God loves each of us very, very much! This does not negate our sinfulness, or sweep it under the rug, But, you and I have a realistic picture of ourselves as sinners touched by mercy, saved by grace, and much beloved by God.
Carolyn Brown reminds us: “Jesus tells his listeners to be honest with God. When we come to God honestly, admitting our sins and trusting that God loves and forgives us, we are OK with God – and also OK with ourselves and the people around us.” 
I invite you – me – all of us – to look around the room. See your family, friends, strangers or people you don’t really know. Each one of us is a sinner, in thought, word and deed. Each one does or says hurtful or thoughtless things. Now, look around the room again. God loves every one of us. Every single one of your friends, your neighbors, your enemies, even.
I ask you: which man went home justified with God? Both men were loved anyhow, but the truthful, humble, repentant tax collector was embraced by God. We can take this parable to heart, and follow the truthful, humble example set for us. We can all strive to be humble and penitent, just like this repentant tax collector.
Praise God we are loved by this amazing God, the God who delights in justifying the ungodly, welcoming the outcast, and healing all who are in need. Alleluia, amen.
 worshipingwothchildren, ibid.